Budapest/Geneva, 18 June 2021 – A looming heatwave in parts of Europe poses a deadly threat to the most vulnerable in our society, and action is urgently needed to protect them, said the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
According to European meteorological offices, Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland and Sweden can expect temperatures above 30°C this weekend. In Berlin, they may climb up to 35°C, which is 13°C higher than the average in this time of year.
Dr Davron Mukhamadiev, IFRC Regional Health and Care Coordinator for Europe, said:
“The double risk of heat and COVID-19 will be particularly dangerous for our most vulnerable – homeless, migrants, older people, pregnant women and those with chronic conditions. As temperatures soar, these people are at heightened risk. It is crucial for governments and civil society to increase support for them. Lives are at stake.”
Heatwaves are the deadliest type of disaster in the Europe region. Increasingly common, they can aggravate pre-existing conditions and cause serious health problems.
According to the latest edition of IFRC’s World Disasters Report[i], published in November, three heatwaves affecting Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom in 2019 caused more than 3,400 deaths.
In 2020, risks associated with these extreme weather events were compounded by COVID-19. While there is a perception that we are at the beginning of the end of the pandemic, every day in Europe more than 52,000 new COVID-19 cases[ii] are detected and 1,200 people die on average.
Dr Mukhamadiev highlighted that IFRC is supporting National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies across Europe to expand their services during the warmest months, including providing first aid, helping people access health services and checking in on isolated and at-risk people.
“French Red Cross is assisting the homeless, while Belgian Red Cross is vaccinating people living in the streets or in informal settlements as well as undocumented migrants. Austrian Red Cross is opening up cooling centres in cities, and the Netherlands Red Cross is visiting thousands of older people to share life-saving tips about staying cool and safe,” he explained.
Experts are also concerned that as lockdowns ease and people grow tired of wearing masks in the heat, many will become infected and contaminate others. This, along with holiday travel, could lead to a new deadly wave across the region in autumn, according to the World Health Organization (WHO)[iii].
“We cannot let our guard down. Staying cautious and following preventive measures on COVID-19 and heatwaves is more important than ever. Otherwise, health systems could again be overwhelmed and a spike in deaths may follow,” underlined Dr Mukhamadiev.
Guidance by the IFRC, the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre and the Global Heat Health Information Network: